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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Exposed: Roger Pielke, Jr., misrepresents climate/extreme weather connection… Again!

from Climate Science Watch, March 20, 2014

The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus (text in PDF here):
In a replay of the argument he’s made for years, political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr., highlights cherry-picked disaster data in an attempt to dismiss the wide array of evidence linking climate change to extreme weather (“Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change”). Pielke’s selective use of data, an approach that has brought him repeated criticism from respected scientists, is featured on the new FiveThirtyEight website, which claims to rely on data to better report the news.
Contrary to Pielke’s selective assertions, the influence of climate change on extreme weather is not measured by extrapolating from costs, but by changes in the weather itself. A huge and growing body of evidence shows that climate change is making extreme weather worse around the globe. Pielke even cites data from Munich Re, the reinsurance giant, while omitting the fact that Munich Re itself takes the economic impact of climate change seriously.
The impacts of climate change on extreme weather are clear:
    • Wildfires in the U.S. are getting larger, and researchers attribute this to warmer temperatures. From 2002-2011, fires cost the U.S. an average of $1.2 billion per year.
    • According to the 2013 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (Table SPM-1), North Atlantic hurricanes have grown more intense, and this is projected to continue due to climate change. Precipitation associated with hurricanes is also projected to increase.
    • Global sea levels have risen, meaning that even average-sized storms are causing more damage due to storm surges. One study found that due to sea level rise, 80,000 more homes were exposed to flooding during Hurricane Sandy.
    • Heat waves are intensifying and becoming more widespread.
    • Precipitation is being concentrated into more extreme events. This contributes to flood damages, and costly events like the 2013 extreme Colorado floods are in line with this trend.
    • Drought causes high damage costs to farms and businesses, and past droughts have been found to be worsened by climate change (including the 2011 Texas drought costing $7.62 billion). Dry areas are projected to continue to get drier, according to the IPCC.
Pielke also includes damage from earthquakes and volcanoes in his global disaster losses tally. These types of natural disasters are not influenced by climate change, and are therefore red herrings that simply do not belong in a post about climate.
Economic factors such as development in coastal areas do impact damage results, a fact that climate scientists account for. While this relationship introduces some uncertainty as to the climate’s precise impact on damage statistics, the examples above show that we know enough to be sure that climate change is contributing to the rising totals.
Future projections show that extreme weather will continue to worsen these impacts.  The economic impacts of climate change are recognized not only by the IPCC and many other world authorities, but by Munich Re itself, the data source for Pielke’s article. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by Munich Re concluded that while past increases in losses have been driven by socioeconomic factors, human-caused climate change now contributes to the trend.
This is merely the latest of myriad past examples of Pielke spreading myths about the impacts of climate change. As others have pointed out, he claims to accept the conclusions of the IPCC and the reality of climate change, but spends most of his airtime downplaying the issuecherry-picking minor science points, and generally antagonizing credible scientists and bloggers. These are all reasons to be skeptical of his claims about the influence of climate change on extreme weather.
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